Usually, it's a train engine of some kind that gets my attention. Locomotives have performed that sort of magic on me for about 60 years or so, and don't I know it. Sometimes I go out of my way to drive through Spencer just to see what's up. I mean, geez, you never know when Thomas the Tank Engine will be there.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
|The now familiar Class J No. 611 makes a run for it.|
"Holy smokes," I thought to myself. "What's that doing here?"
Logically, I figured the engine was in the Spencer Shops for some restoration work. But, no. As I later found out, "Sadie" (as she is known by) was in town for the 100 Years of Steam event that was held this past weekend. The engine was part of a three-train display that also featured the Civil War era "Texas" and the iconic bullet-nosed, art deco Class J No. 611, headquartered in Roanoke, Va.
|The "Texas" is a wonderful piece of history, and beautiful in its own right.|
But now she makes fairly regular excursions between Spencer and Roanoke, and so every once in a while, you can hear her singularly plaintive steam whistle as she Dopplers her way through Lexington.
I also had some interest in the "Texas," which Kim and I had seen years ago in the Atlanta History Center where it is on permanent static display. The engine is part of Civil War lore, one of several involved in the Great Locomotive Chase through the hinterlands of Georgia in 1862. It was the "Texas," running in reverse, that finally caught up to the "General," which had been commandeered by Yankees on a raiding party.
I was surprised by how small the "Texas" was compared to her more modern cousins at the Spencer Shops, where she'd spent the past year or so undergoing her own restoration before heading back to Atlanta.
|Saddle tank owner John Gramling gives me a lesson in engineering.|
And that's where we found him, making a water stop.
Gramling and his son, Barney, are basically a two-man saddle tank restoration team. They operate out of a barn on the family property in Ashley, Ind., and had restored one saddle tank engine before finding No. 126 in a scrap yard in Carbondale, Pa., in 2001. They came looking for parts and instead bought the engine for $4,500.
It only took the Gramlings 10 years to get "Sadie" back on track, as it were.
"It's a lot of work," understated Gramling, a carpenter by trade who once did a little teaching in addition to running the family farm before devoting full time to restoration work in 1985. "But it's also very rewarding. We travel a large part of the country, give rides, maybe offer a little education."
No. 126, as it turned out, never left the coal yards.
The Gramlings now have a stable of four engines.
"Yeah, well," sighed Gramling. "We bought the fourth one in a rage of stupidity, I guess. It's really gotten out of hand.
"We research the renovation work on our own," said Gramling. "The one thing I've learned from all of this is when someone offers you advice about these engines, it's probably best not to take it," he smiled.
Trains were in operation all over the Spencer yard, it seemed. I thought that was a curious thing, given that there were a ton of pedestrians on the grounds. Generally speaking, masses of iron and steel moving with the force of momentum don't usually play well together with flesh and bones, but somehow, the Transportation Museum makes it work.
And it occurred to me what an incredibly wonderful resource this place is: Turntable. Roundhouse. Active workshop. Museum. We're lucky to have something like this so close to home.
Just a train whistle away.